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FILE PHOTO: Indonesian police stand guard at the open-pit mine of PT Freeport's Grasberg copper and gold mine complex near Timika, in the eastern province of Papua, Indonesia September 19, 2015 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. REUTERS/Muhammad Adimaja/Antara Foto

(reuters_tickers)

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Police in the eastern Indonesian province of Papua have named six people as suspects out of 17 arrested on Saturday after a violent demonstration by former mine workers at Freeport McMoRan Inc's Grasberg copper mine, a police spokesman said.

Trouble erupted at the mine, the world's second-biggest copper mine, when demonstrators blocked an access road in a protest over employment terms. At least seven people were injured and dozens of vehicles and buildings torched, and access to Grasberg was restricted amid safety concerns.

The six people were named as suspects for carrying weapons among "various" offences, Papua Police Spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said on Monday.

Under Indonesian law, naming someone as a suspect means authorities believe they have enough evidence to consider filing charges, and such cases normally go to court.

"They were carrying machetes, knives and bows and arrows," Kamal said. "This was not an ordinary demonstration."

Police are also investigating a shooting on the same access road on Thursday that injured a police officer and a search for an "armed group of criminals" began in the area today, Kamal said.

"Looking at the footprints there were more than five people," Kamal told Reuters, adding that the search efforts had been hampered by foggy weather and difficult terrain in the area.

Incidents like this were frequent on the access road, Kamal said.

"Limited" access to Grasberg resumed on Monday, said Riza Pratama, a Freeport Indonesia spokesman.

Tensions around Grasberg could hamper Indonesia's efforts to calm Papua, where a low-level insurgency has simmered for decades. The mine is a major source of revenue for the local economy, but its social and environmental footprints are sources of friction between police and the local population.

Between 2009 and 2015, shootings within the mine project area have killed 20 people and wounded 59. To protect workers and infrastructure, Freeport contributed $21 million towards government-provided security in 2015.

(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa in JAKARTA; Writing by Fergus Jensen in SINGAPORE; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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Reuters